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Saturday February 03, 2024

Congratulations to Jessica Borger
2019 ASI Margaret Baird Women in Immunology Lectureship Awardee


We warmly congratulate
Jessica Borger
winner of the 2019 ASI Margaret Baird Women in Immunology Lectureship Award

Established in 2019 in memory of Margaret Baird

I am a passionate science communicator, immunologist, educator and national leader in Diversity and Inclusion in STEMM.

Following 14 years in the UK as an academic researcher, including undertaking my PhD at the National Institute of Medical Research and a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh, in late 2019 I transitioned from research at the Dept of Immunology at the Central Clinical School, Monash University into education, appointed as the inaugural Graduate Course Convenor. As the Scientific Education Program Leader at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne, I now lead the management and ongoing development of the Honours, Masters and PhD programs (Figure 1).

I was awarded the inaugural Margaret Baird Women in Immunology Award back in 2019. I had just transitioned into education and then the COVID pandemic ensured no one was travelling anywhere for a while. During this time, I raised national discussions on how COVID-19 risked reversing the gender equity gains made by Women in STEM, with other members of the ASI community including Dr Kylie Quinn and A. Prof Kate Lawlor, we called for urgent government funding for effective, diverse and equitable medical research, and provided solutions on how government, institutions and societies could support women in a post-COVID academia.  Indeed, at the end of the pandemic in 2022, I was awarded the ASI Social Impact Award for the significant outreach of the ICB paper I authored with Prof Louise Purton, in which we presented metrics demonstrating gross inequities in the number of grants and the amount funded to women compared to male researchers by the NHMRC.

My advocacy was, and is, only achievable due to the support I have from my networks including veski and Women in Science Parkville Precinct (WiSPP), and the scientific communities I am part of including Monash University, WEHI and especially ASI and ICB. Prof Anne La Flamme, took a shot on me in 2018, asking me to improve outreach at ICB in a newly created Associate Editor role where I improved media outreach and formed our relationship with BSI and Immunology. Following a further stint as News and Commentary Editor in 2023 I was asked to become the Immunology Futures Editor, a new section conceptualised by Prof Adrian Liston as a forum to promote dialog with the immunology research career, in particular early-career researchers, providing a platform to elevate the voices of diverse immunologists to provide multiple perspectives experiences, careers and advice in immunology. These roles have empowered me to promote messages of diversity and inclusion and raise the profiles of women in immunology. As noted by Prof Gabrielle Belz at the ICB 100th anniversary session at the recent ASI meeting, the contributions of women to Immunology have limited visibility, and along with co-authors Dr Catriona Nguyen-Robertson and Dr James Harris, we could only identify 5, listed within our 2021 ICB editorial “Trailblazing women in immunology from Australia and New Zealand”. After doing further research on these women for individual articles within ICB’s 100th anniversary issue, I found that Ms Dora Lush could only make her contributions under Burnett MacFarlane as it was at a time where women could not be awarded PhDs.

Prof Margaret Baird was another trailblazer in Immunology, who from the tears I noted in ASI members eyes upon Margaret’s daughter Harriet Pope speaking at the 2018 award ceremony (Fig 2), made much broader impacts to those she met than just her research. When I tried to understand more about Margaret, I could only find a few small articles and her publications online. Working with Dr Jess Wade (a champion in creating Wikipedia sites for women scientists), we created a Wikipedia site for Margaret to elevate her visibility and accessibility for future generations. The more I spoke with ASI members in creating the site, I realised Margaret, who has made significant research findings, had touched more people through her passions, energies and dedication to teaching immunology and mentoring.

As an educator now myself, I now understand the lack of visibility and support we receive compared to scientific researchers within societies and institutions. We don’t get the big papers nor do we bring in the big grants, yet our career progression relies on more than teaching the next generation of scientists. We are education researchers as well, yet there are far fewer opportunities for us to apply for funding to publish and travel, which significantly impacts our networks and visibility. Indeed, A. Prof Danica Hickey and I established the ASI Education Mentoring Program in 2022, with the support of the ASI Education SIG, to provide those critical networks and peer support, and in 2024 we will merge with the ASI Mentor-Mentee program led by Dr Alexandra Dvorscek and Dr Jennifer Habel to breakdown the researcher v educator silos and increase connectivity across the ASI of all immunologists.


This year I used the Margaret Baird Award to provide me with much needed funding to travel and present my education research into Collaborative Online International Learning at the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) conference in Brisbane, which led to an invitation to present at the regional Victorian HERDSA/ACEN conference and much needed networking opportunities. I was also able to attend the ASI conference in New Zealand (Fig 3), presenting my scientific education research on creating a novel guideline to teaching flow cytometry to students in lab placements such as Honours or PhD, which led to collaborations, and a new research topic within indigenous teaching and learning. I look forward to continuing my advocacy, with particular focus on diversity and inclusion of indigenous and other under-represented minorities, as well as increasing the visibility and opportunities for educators across the ASI and institutionally.

To learn more about Margaret, please read the article for the ICB 100th anniversary issue I was privileged to write with her daughters, Harriet and Sophie Baird, and Margaret’s husband Stephen. Stephen had much joy reminiscing about his journey with Margaret as she established her scientific career and spent a good weekend sorting through old boxes to find photos of her, including one as the only women enrolled in her Immunology course at University. Although Stephen saw the final copy of the article prior to submission, he sadly passed away before it’s publication. I would like to dedicate this article Stephen, for so passionately supporting Margaret’s career and being an exceptional role model to other men, to Margaret and her sister trailblazers, the women in immunology I have identified in this article who paved the way for my career successes, and finally to the future trailblazers who I know will create tremendous paths for themselves and ensure to always bring others along for the ride.

Author: Jessica Borger

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ASI

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